New Poll Finds Shifting Views on BDS

Artwork by Banksy on the Palestinian side of the Israeli security fence. Photo by Dan Meyers/Unsplash

The American public is more aware of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and its agenda, according to findings from the University of Maryland’s Critical Issues Poll.

Overseen by Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, the poll’s questions were administered online in October 2019 as part of a larger national poll. Of the 1,260 respondents to the Critical Issues Poll questions, nearly half (49%) had heard of BDS at least “a little,” while 20% reported hearing of BDS “a good amount” or “a great deal.”

“Over the last couple of years, [BDS] has been much more discussed in the mainstream,” Telhami said via email. He argued that efforts to curtail BDS’s goals have contributed to the public’s increased awareness of the movement.

The poll also found shifting attitudes regarding perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While 80% of respondents self-identifying as Democrats wanted to see the U.S. take a neutral position, Republican respondents have increasingly favored support for Israel. Telhami offered two explanations for the higher Republican support.

“The first is the increasing role of Evangelical Christians in the Republican Party,” he said. “When you take Evangelicals out of the data, Republicans start looking much closer to the rest of the population on Israel.”

The second factor Telhami cited was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inserting himself into American politics, specifically noting the Iran nuclear deal.

“Not only did [Netanyahu] oppose the deal (called it an ‘existential threat’), but he also entered the American political debate, giving a speech against the deal to a joint session of Congress,” Telhami wrote. “This made Democrats dislike him more, but it made him a Republican hero.”

In a poll he conducted in 2015, Telhami found that Netanyahu tied with Ronald Reagan as Republicans’s “most admired leader in the world.” Since Trump became president, said Telhami, “his closeness to Netanyahu also endeared him to Republicans while angering Democrats.”

In an article by Telhami published earlier this month by the Brookings Institution, he noted a “gap between elected Democrats and their constituents on this issue.”

“Democratic constituents were “growing more critical of Israel than politicians,” he wrote.

Democratic voters might use the issue as a litmus test for candidates during the primaries. “This has been particularly reflected so far in the exchange between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden on the potential of withholding aid from Israel based on its policy toward the Palestinians,” Telhami said in his email. “I expect to see more of that as the primaries heat up.”

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